Pottery for Beginners

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As a beginner, pottery might seem a tad intimidating. There are several technical terms & strange tools that you might have to work with. Although you might have derived inspiration from any YouTube channel or maybe a friend of yours, starting afresh requires you to experiment and process a plethora of information. While some information might overwhelm you, others might seem easy to process.

So, here is a go-to guide that you can follow before you start crafting with clay.

What Type of Clay Should You Use When Starting as a Beginner?

Before you pick the best equipment for pottery work, you need to select the right clay type for the pottery work. Broadly speaking, your choice of clay can vary between stoneware, earthenware, and porcelain.

Earthenware can be fired at a low temperature. This means the clay matures at a particularly low temperature in the kiln. Thus, using earthenware clay ensures that you use less energy while ensuring that your electricity bills are cheaper. However, earthenware tends to have high porosity as compared to other clay variants. So, it might not be ideal for use in the microwave or dishwasher.

Water that gets absorbed into the clay might introduce cracks if you heat it up. However, glazing the earthenware makes it ideal for use as dinnerware. Remember that it cannot be washed in the dishwasher. So, hand washing these pottery utensils is the key.

On the other hand, stoneware prefers a middle-range temperature for firing purposes. However, the ingredients mixed with the stoneware clay during the kneading process can vary the temperature at which they mature in the kiln. These clay particles can range in colors from a near-white tint to red or a speckled one. Stoneware that is fired perfectly can be used in microwaves and dishwashers. So, a standard stoneware mug or dish is ideal for daily use.

Finally, porcelain clay requires you to fire the artwork at the highest temperature in a kiln. If you plan on using it, make sure that the kiln reaches this temperature. If yours is a regular hobby-style firing kiln, it might not attain the desired temperature. Porcelain, after firing, attains a fine ceramic texture that is translucent if rolled in thin, given its purity. Moreover, it is very expensive and might cost you about twice that of stoneware or earthenware.

Earthenware Clay Porcelain Clay Stoneware Clay
Warm, Earthy, and Rich Body With High PorosityDurable & Dense Body But With A Refined TextureDurable and Dense Body Similar To That Of A Rock
1830-2190oF2200-2640oF2000-2300oF
Requires Glazing Post FiringDoes Not Require Glazing Post FiringDoesn’t Require Glazing Post Firing
Not Safe for Microwave or DishwasherDurable and dense Body But With A Refined TextureDishwasher & Microwave Safe

Beginner’s Edition: How to Use Clay for Pottery Purposes?         

There are several methods of creating beautiful ceramics. Some folks create artistic pottery pieces with the help of rolled-out clay slabs. These slabs can easily be molded into the form of cylinders or slumped over the molds to create shapes like bowls or plates. Clay slabs can easily be rolled with the help of your hand. However, if you plan on creating a bitch batch, you can simply use a high-quality clay roller machine.

Among the choices you have for a roller machine, the best possible option currently is Makin’s Professional Clay Machine. The machine is designed for an effortless blending and mixing of colors. It can also be used for integrating textures into the clay.         

You can also opt for pottery casting using molds that are filled with a runny and wet mix comprised of clay and water. It is termed a slip. You can purchase these unique molds from online supply stores. A high-quality pottery wheel is important to the clay-throwing process. This versatile machine helps you mold the clay into your desired shape. As a beginner, you might not be good at pottery throwing. However, with time, you can master the art of throwing. Although kick wheels were popular back in the day, today, though, most potters make use of electric pottery wheels that are easy to maneuver and control the speed.    

Do Not Forget To Wedge The Clay Well

If you ask any experienced potter, they would agree to the fact that wedging the clay is a tedious process but is just as important. Most beginner crafters have never indulged in a clay wedging session. So, it might seem very tiring and unnecessary. You might simply want to pick a small lump of clay and pat it into a ball-like form for wheel throwing.

However, doing this might not get you the best results. Moreover, it can delay the molding process making the clay hard and difficult to center on the wheel. If you have been trying way too hard to center your clay, the cause could be the presence of air pockets inside. The air tends to be lighter than your clay, so this is why your clay might be off-center.

Improper wedging or simply not wedging the clay can introduce a lot of air pockets as opposed to taking it out. If this happens continuously, you might have to take the cake off the wheel and start over with another piece. So, instead of increasing your workload, a simple 15 minutes of wedging can help your pottery process.

Check The Clay’s Moisture Consistency

Before you initiate the throwing process, ensure that the clay’s moisture content is appropriate. The clay shouldn’t be too soft or too hard. If this happens, your clay won’t center at all. When you touch the clay, it should feel smooth and without any hard spots.

So, add water to the clay accordingly. Do not pour in water all in one go. Try to go slow and use a sponge to dab in little water at a time. Too much water can cause your clay wall to collapse when you pull it up. On the other hand, hard clay cannot be pulled properly and might develop cracks or rub harshly against your hands.

Fortunately, you can easily fix and spot water issues in your clay pieces. If your clay doesn’t have enough water, you can remove it from the wheel & add some more water as needed. Start by spraying water on the clay & wedge it as required. Continue doing this until the clay is soft for wheel throwing.

Alternatively, if your clay is too wet, it is better to let it dry to a bone-hard consistency & recycle it as needed.

Quick Equipment List for Beginner Pottery Artists

The most important piece of the puzzle here is a high-quality kiln that adds permanency to the pottery process. However, if you just want to create some mini models or ornaments, the key is to use air-dry or polymer clay. On the other hand, for vases, tableware, or other forms of robust pottery work, a kiln is a vital component.

Certain potters tend to use gas or wood to fire their kilns. However, there are electric kilns available in the market that can reach a temperature as high as 1280oC. Apart from this, picking up the right pottery wheel is important. You need to understand the basics such as wheel speed, torque, foot pedal, and more.

7 pottery tools are a must-have for every beginner-level pottery artist.

1.  A nylon or metallic wire with wood-based toggles on each end will help you cut the pots from the wheel after you have completed the molding process.

2. With a high-quality sponge, you can add an adequate amount of water to the pot during the molding process. It can also be used for removing excess water from the pots if you accidentally add more.

3. Apart from this, high-quality chamois leather works best when it comes to smoothing the pot’s surface or the rim. You can purchase these chamois leather pieces from online websites at pocket-friendly prices.

4. When preparing shallow bowls or plates, you can pick some smooth wooden ribs that can help smooth out the base.

5. A ping tool works best when it comes to cutting off the top section from the wobbly pots. It can also help pop out the air bubbles. If you are looking for an ideal pin tool, opt for ones that are thin as opposed to the fatter ones.

6. You would also need a durable throwing stick to clean up your pot’s outer surfaces. It can also help create a base undercut bevel. This bevel helps make it easier to cut the pot that is on the wheel.

7. Trimming tools are ideal for making pots using foot rings. In addition, the tool is ideal for refining shapes once the clay starts to firm up.

Pick A Reliable Pottery Wheel

Although most beginner artists prefer hand-building when starting their journey, experimenting with different processes can be fun. Wheel throwing can be intimidating at the beginning, but it is an important part of the pottery process.

An electric pottery wheel can be your go-to choice for an easy crafting process. Most electric wheels allow you to produce larger volumes of pottery pieces in a shorter time frame. These automatic wheels are lighter in weight & are very portable. Modern-day electric pottery wheels have a motor speed that can go as high as 300RPM. Moreover, it also has a high torque that enables it to carry the weight of the clay with ease.

If you work with a big batch, make sure you consider getting an electric wheel with a large-capacity motor. However, most beginner artists tend to work with normal or average-sized pieces. So, you can make do with smaller pottery wheels.

Moreover, some wheels also flaunt reversibility. So, if you tend to work with your left hand, this feature works well in your favor.

Glazing Choices for Beginner Pottery Artists

 Some pottery pieces such as vases or flower pots can be prepared without glazing. However, other pottery pieces need to be glazed. You can pick from matte or gloss-based glaze choices along with several possible variants. Potters generally favor gloss glazes for tableware as it is easy to clean. Some glazes might be colored; however, they still might show some clay body underneath. This works perfectly when using speckled clay.

The best way to prepare a good-quality glaze for your pottery work is to purchase ready-made powder available online. There are several color options when preparing a glaze for your pottery ware. First, however, you need to make sure that the glaze can be fired at the desired temperature and fits within your kiln’s temperature limits.

When trying a new type of glaze, you should start by using 4 pounds of the powder for mug dipping purposes. The ratio of water and the glaze should be 1:1. When working around powdered materials, one must wear a high-quality respirator mask to avoid inhalation. This is especially important if you are suffering from breathing issues such as asthma.

Use a fine-netted sieve to filter out the glaze and remove all the large particles present in it. Sieves are important to achieve a smooth glaze finish. The key is to try & get a minimum of 80 microns mesh. With time, you can learn and prepare your very own pottery glaze. However, for starters, you must stick to the ones purchased from the online store and learn the basics.

Where Should You Start Your First Pottery Escapade?

Clay work is best when created in a well-ventilated room or even an outbuilding. Clay dust tends to be very fine, and it would be difficult to pick up or even contain the same with the help of a vacuum sweeper. An ideal place for your pottery work would be in:

  • Make sure you work on a floor that is impenetrable to water & can easily be cleaned. An ideal choice would be a linoleum or concrete floor.
  • Also, ensure that you have quick and easy access to clean water. However, you must ensure that the clay should make its way down the drains. If this happens, it could lead to clogging issues in the drainage system once the clay dries up.
  • A sturdy work table that isn’t wobbly during the wheel-throwing process.
  • A surface that prevents the clay from sticking onto it. Alternatively, you can place paper or plastic mats on your work surface to ensure zero sticking issues.
  • Sturdy shelves that can help with the pottery drying process.
  • A big cabinet or any other options to help store the glaze. It should have doors to ensure you can lock it up after you are done, and your pets or children cannot get to it by any means.

If you don’t have a dedicated space to start the practice sessions, you can simply join a local pottery class for beginners.

Don’t Let The Clay Dry Too Fast

If you just crafted your pottery piece, do not be in a hurry to dry the clay. Take your artwork off the wheel. Next, set it in a place that allows it to dry slowly yet steadily. If the clay dries way too fast, your clay might end up with a lot of cracks. So, do not try to hasten the process.

You will notice these cracks mostly in areas such as the pot’s rim, bottom, or the joints of the handle. However, such cracks can be difficult to fix. This can be problematic for beginners who don’t know the best ways to slip and score. However, things can be done to prevent the cracks from surfacing.

Place your piece on a drying board or ware board to allow it to dry out evenly. For the initial 24 hours, make sure you cover the piece with a plastic bag. This will prevent rapid moisture evaporation and hence prevent the formation of cracks.

If you notice cracks developing in the clay attachments, an ideal move would be to brush some wax resist in this section.

Doing this ensures your clay won’t dry out too fast. It also prevents the formation of cracks in the pottery joints. After 24 hours, slowly move the piece to a location that is airy and has sufficient exposure to the sun for drying.

Every few hours, make sure you keep rotating the pieces for even drying. Even if some cracks develop on your pottery pieces, you can correct them as soon as you notice them. This can be done by scoring the affected area and then adding some slip to the scored area. Ensure that the slip isn’t too thin. The consistency should be as close to the moisture content of the pottery piece to ensure even drying.

Refrain From Buying In Bulk As A Beginner Artist

When starting your journey as a pottery artist, you must refrain from giving in to the temptation of buying in bulk. Even if you plan on making a living out of the pottery business, the key is to learn first and then buy. For starters, you wouldn’t know the best clay type for your pottery preparation process. So, you can pick the options mentioned earlier in the article and work with them all to find out which style suits you best.

As we start, it is normal for artists to get tempted and purchase in bulk, especially given the low pricing. However, you might end up wasting more than you use. So, start small and begin with the basics. Then, with time, as you master the art, you can go bulk shopping.

Store Your Clay Properly To Avoid Wastage

When you start your practice process, you might not end up using all the clay in one go. So, you must practice the best ways to store that extra clay. Get a good-quality air-tight jar keep your clay inside it and place the jar in a cool and dry area.

If you have different types of clay, make sure you put each in a zip-lock bag and then place it inside the air-tight jar.

Dedicated Space For Your Kiln Firing Process

Your pottery ware attains its firing status once it reaches the bone-dry stage. You can test this out by touching the piece. If it doesn’t feel cool, it means the moisture has evaporated from the pot and is now ready for the kiln firing process. However, for someone who is just starting out as a pottery artist, purchasing a kiln might seem a bit too expensive.

If possible, you can rent out a kiln from a local potter if they are willing to share one when not being used. When firing your pottery work, you need to keep the safety factor in mind. Always wear good-quality gloves before to ensure there are no burns or bruises during the loading or unloading of the pottery ware from the kiln.

Also, you need to keep in mind that your pottery piece will shrink during the firing process. This happens as the moisture from the pot evaporates. So, it is better to start with a test batch or model at the start. This will help you decide how big or small you want your main batch to be. If you are aiming for bigger pots, make them at least an inch or two bigger than your desired size. This number can vary depending on the clay you are using. You can make use of a dedicated shrinkage ruler that can help you determine the exact size your potteryware needs to be during the shaping process.

Conclusion

Understanding the nuances of pottery as a beginner artist might seem a tad challenging. However, with patience and perseverance, you can achieve some amazing milestones in your journey. With the tips mentioned above, you can gather the required knowledge, gain skills, & prepare some lovely pottery pieces. As a beginner, you would do well with some additional support. So, if possible, do ask for help from your friends or family members who are into pottery making.

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